Such Sweet Sorrow...
Parting is such sweet sorrow, as any Shakespeare buff will tell you. For Steve Ransom, the end of his marriage brought a renewed friendship with his ex-wife – and, more to the point, she needed something with better mileage than the Jeep Wrangler they’d built together. With a sensible runabout to offer in exchange, he was only too happy to oblige…
Breaking stuff is not normally a positive thing. If you broke your leg, for example, you’d start by experiencing pain and go on to suffer reduced mobility – plus perhaps even ridicule from your pals, depending on the manner in which you ruined your tibia.
Worse still (probably) is breaking a CV joint or your transfer box. In this case, it’s the opposite of breaking your leg: the reduced mobility comes first, followed by the pain. Pain from your wallet, obviously.
Talking of wallet pain, the worst breakage of all is surely the kind that happens to marriages. That is, unless you’re Steve Ransom.
Breaking up can be a messy and bitter affair. Arguing over who gets to keep the TV, who paid for the coffee machine, who the dog loves more… it’s not pretty.
Imagine, then, the turmoil and stress of having to decide who gets the Jeep.
‘It was actually my ex-wife’s,’ remarks Steve. ‘Her name is Christine; she bought the parts and helped with some of the maintenance. I did the harder, more technical work, though it was always her baby.’
We wonder how Steve managed to walk away with the keys to her baby, then, without being chased furiously down the road. Well, it’s simple – it all came down to fuel economy.
‘Shortly after the divorce, Christine bought another Jeep for daily driving. But she wasn’t off-roading the TJ, and she wanted a more fuel-efficient car. So we traded vehicles, title for title – she inherited my Chrysler 200 and I got her TJ. She did take the winch with her, seeing as it was her engagement gift!
‘She knew I would take care of the TJ and use it as it was intended. Still today we are great friends and she will ask about her TJ from time to time.’
In some cases, the kids and TJs can be the worst affected in situations like these. Happily, though, this TJ seems to have come through the divorce without any scarring at all. And you can always look back at the fonder memories…
‘The now ex-wife and I drove the TJ from Anchorage, Alaska to Virginia Beach, Virginia, with two black labs and 800 pounds of gear. That’s over 4500 miles of cramped driving, loading and unloading the dogs and gear, every day for a week.
‘Additionally on day four of the trip, the weight of the gear cracked the welds on the tyre carrier and exploded the back glass in the rear hard top. This of course freaked the dogs out – so now imagine two grown adults and two black labs, all in the front of a tiny Jeep TJ, until we could pull over and calm them down. Did I mention we were driving all of this in the middle of January? Good times!’
They were in Alaska in the first place because Steve was stationed there. And it was in the Last Frontier, he says, that he fell in love with off-roading and Jeep.
‘There are long trails that seem to go on forever, so the conditions, scenery and obstacles are always changing and challenging. Alaska, by far, has been the harshest of environments I've wheeled in. Every trail we ran would be in groups of three or more as a minimum. And lots of extra parts were carried with us.
‘Once you committed to the trail, you were on your own, sometimes with 50-100 miles of desolate terrain in any direction. Combined with the winter conditions, peat bogs and Alaskan wildlife (mainly giant moose and bears), it could get pretty precarious.’
With this in mind, its makes sense when Steve tells us he builds his rigs to cope with a variety of landscapes rather than just one particular type of terrain. And Buttercup is a fine example of that.
Yes, Buttercup. That’s what Steve’s chariot is called.
‘This Jeep was named after one of the characters from the Powerpuff Girls cartoon,’ he explains. ‘I have a Jeep charm that hangs from the passenger window visor. That charm happens to be Buttercup.’
The TJ isn’t the only Powerpuff Girl Steve has had in his life either, having previously owned a 1979 CJ5 nicknamed Bubbles. This had a bit of attention too; in fact, it was so heavily modified that when Steve moved to Germany, he couldn’t take it with him.
‘My first Jeep was a 1999 Grand Cherokee,’ he says. ‘I didn’t take it off-road since it was the grocery getter. I also have a 1981 CJ7 Frank-n-Jeep, with a YJ tub, 347 Stroker motor and T18 transmission mated to a Dana 300 project I was working on before I was stationed here in the UK.
‘The project Jeep is in storage along with my 1979 Dodge Ram Charger with 8” lift and 38” tyres, powered by a Big Block 440. I do all my own work, from the simple bolt-on work to re-gearing or welding – nobody but me touches the Jeep.’
The touching on Buttercup started back in Alaska when, immediately after having been bought from stock, she was lifted and fitted with new rims and tyres, the aforementioned winch and front and rear bumpers.
‘The other modifications came later, as things broke or needed to be modified to increase performance,’ Steve explains. ‘Looking back, I would have upgraded the rear axle to a G2 60 so I don’t have worry about breaking the Dana 35. Although with the upgraded shafts, I haven’t had an issue, and I wheel her pretty hard! The Dana 35 gets a bad rap but, if it’s built right, with conscientious driving she does the trick.’
That’s good to hear, because there have been enough breakages in this story without any more things snapping, thank you. Steve does have second thoughts on his rear Detroit Locker, though, as he doesn’t have a trailer over here to transport the Jeep about. ‘Street driving with the rear locker sucks!’ he exclaims. No arguments about its worth off-road, though.
You’d think that having had Buttercup since 2000, Steve would have finished giving her even more special powers – but that’s where you’d be wrong. This spring, he’ll whack on some Metal Cloak front and rear rock-slider fenders, get the Jeep walking tall by stepping up to 35” tyres and swap out the stock control arms to uprated ones from Currie Enterprises.
If he finds any extra money down the back of the couch, a Sprintex supercharger might be plonked under the bonnet. Talking of money, how much he spends on his TJ is irrelevant these days, because while human relationships can come and go, he knows he won’t be divorcing this Jeep… ever!
‘I would never give up Buttercup for another vehicle. Too much blood, sweat, and gears have gone into her. She is as much of a family member as my daughter… who confidently informs me that it will be her Jeep once she’s old enough to drive!’
The clock’s ticking on that one, because his daughter, Hallie, is 12. Maybe not old enough to drive yet, but she can spot a great vehicle when she sees one!
This TJ is definitely more power than puff – something that hits you when you hear Buttercup unleashing her full range of vocal chords on the Yarwell Off-Road site (sounds quite gravelly at times to be honest). It’s settled with Steve, though, and it will be playing happy families with him, and the world’s trails and off-road sites, for many years to come.